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Stanley Kubrick
Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone
Writing Credits:
Stephen King (novel), Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson

A Masterpiece Of Modern Horror.

Think of the greatest terror imaginable. Is it a monstrous alien? A lethal epidemic? Or, as in this harrowing masterpiece from Stanley Kubrick, is it fear of murder by someone who should love and protect you - a member of your own family?

From a script he co-adapted from the Stephen King novel, Kubrick melds vivid performances, menacing setting, dreamlike tracking shots and shock after shock into a milestone of the macabre. In a signature role, Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, who's come to the elegant, isolated Overlook Hotel as off-season caretaker with his wife and son. Torrance has never been there before - or has he? The answer lies in a ghostly time warp of madness and murder.

Box Office:
$22 million.
Opening Weekend
$622.337 thousand on 10 screens.
Domestic Gross
$44.017 million.

Rated R

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Mono
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 142 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 6/29/1999

• “The Making of The Shining” Documentary with Optional Commentary
• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Shining (1980)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 16, 2007)

It's odd to think that of the 17 films Stanley Kubrick directed during his almost 50 year career, only six came out over the course of my currently 32 year life. Half of those really predated me; I wasn't yet a year old when 2001 hit the screens, and A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon weren't really regarded as prime fare for children the ages of four and eight, respectively.

As such, the first Kubrick offering that I saw theatrically was 1980's The Shining. It also occupies the unique position of being the only Kubrick film of the three I saw theatrically that I actually liked. Neither Full Metal Jacket or Eyes Wide Shut did much for me, but I really got into The Shining. I even considered it to be my all-time favorite film for a good five or six months. (Things change fast at that age!)

I hadn't seen the film in quite some time, though I recall watching it on video and not thinking all that highly of it. Anyway, now that it's out on DVD, I decided to revisit this childhood favorite.

In my opinion, The Shining is a pretty good but unspectacular horror film. Throughout its nearly two and a half hours, Kubrick manages to pack in enough thrills and suspense to keep me interested, but he also falters pretty badly along the way.

Essentially, I found that the second half of the movie works better than the first. That's largely because I felt Kubrick tried too hard during the movie's first hour or so. He frequently worked to make many early scenes seem creepy or scary although it was too soon for such suspense. We should see Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) slowly descend into madness, but even when he's supposed to seem normally he appears nuts. Some would fault Nicholson's portrayal for this, but I think the responsibility lies firmly in the hands of Kubrick. He was apparently a very active director, and I don't think he would have stuck with the "wacko Jack" images if they weren't what he wanted. Given his reputation for filming eight bazillion takes of every scene, I'm sure Kubrick could have gotten some that were more subtle than this.

The overly pushy quality of the film expands into other realms as well. Kubrick usually displays an adept touch at integrating music into his films, but he really used a heavy hand as he did so here. Far too often during the first half of the film we hear musical cues that prime us to expect what's about to happen. This was completely unnecessary and it really detracts from the suspense; the music so strongly tells us "something's wrong" that we gain no opportunity to learn it for ourselves.

Essentially, the faults of The Shining are the same as those found in Kubrick's final two films: a lack of subtlety. This was a director whose best films offered themselves up for multiple interpretations because they lacked any kind of viewpoint that was directly forced upon the viewer; in essence, Kubrick presented the material and let the audience decide what to do with it.

In his last three films, however, he laid things on too thickly and seemed to work harder to more directly manipulate the viewer. That fault is least problematic in The Shining if just because horror films are SUPPOSED to be manipulative; half the pleasure is from the cheap thrills they provide. Still, we expected more from Kubrick and he does not really live up to that billing here.

The second half of The Shining is much more effective. This is not because Kubrick does anything spectacular; really, he just does what he did in the first half. However, at that point the parts that seemed overdone earlier start to work because they now appear more appropriate; events have taken a sufficiently negative turn so that the chills and thrills make more sense.

As is fairly typical of Kubrick films, much of the acting seems somewhat wooden and stiff; I think he might have directed actors that way so that when something unusual happens their reactions seem even more pronounced. (That's just my theory, of course.) Nicholson's his typically solid self, though really only when he's psychologically "elsewhere." Actually, I think Nicholson was miscast in the role because I think we should see more of a difference between "normal" Jack and "axe murderer" Jack; he ALWAYS seems creepy, even when he's just chitchatting in a job interview. While the role may have benefited from an actor who can provide more of a range, Nicholson still works well for most of the film and he probably makes it more interesting than it otherwise would be.

Shelley Duvall's work as wife Wendy is acceptable but unspectacular - her job is simply to look mousy and to scream a lot - but little Danny Lloyd provides a very nice turn as son Danny (creative naming, folks). Like Jack, he has some trouble with the "normal" parts of the role, and he had a terrible "Yikes!" expression, but he's wonderful when he has to play creepy. Pretty spooky stuff, watching that little guy pace around the room muttering "Redrum!" (Guilty pleasure: whenever I pass a Rack Room Shoes outlet, I can't help but start to yell "Rack Room!" in a coarse, high-pitched tone. Try it - you'll like it!)

All in all, I view The Shining as a good but not exceptional film. It's a good thing that it ends strongly - it'd be a much bigger disappointment if the first half was strong but the second half bit - but I thought it simply tried too hard to provoke emotions that should have flowed effortlessly.

The DVD Grades: Picture D/ Audio C+/ Bonus C

That's one thing I can't say about the Warner Bros. DVD release of The Shining: it's pretty clear no one worked too hard on it! I heard some internet wag call the Warner series of Kubrick releases on DVD "crappers in snappers," and that sobriquet seems rather apt, especially in the case of this one. Of the four I've seen, The Shining isn't the worst - unfortunately, A Clockwork Orange, easily my favorite Kubrick film, takes that honor - but it's pretty bad.

The Shining appears full-frame in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD, and it doesn't look too good! Grain isn't too much of a problem - especially not compared to Full Metal Jacket and and the theatrical presentation of Eyes Wide Shut, which may be the worst looking film I've ever seen on the big screen - but the print possesses multiple flaws. We see scratches, marks and spots that run throughout the entire film. In addition, the movie displays a generally hazy or fuzzy quality; on occasion, certain scenes seem decently sharp, but never more than just acceptable, and usually much less than that. Really, the only thing that keeps this DVD from appearing to be VHS quality are the colors; hues usually look reasonably solid. Other than that, it's a mess.

Much a stink has been made over the fact that The Shining has not been presented in the letterboxed format. Apparently this is because Kubrick preferred it that way. From what I've read, the film was shot full-frame and then matted for the 1.85:1 ratio of the theatrical release, so no information has been lost on the sides, and additional material is visible on the top and bottom. Personally, I prefer that all films - even those shot this way - be letterboxed to preserve the original ratio; I feel that to add material that wasn't there on the movie screen distorts the movie in a way. Still, this kind of presentation isn't terribly bothersome to me; it's more annoying that they did such a bad job of mastering the picture in the first place.

In regard to sound, The Shining boasts a decent but unspectacular mono mix. While a big-studio film from 1980 probably should have featured some sort of surround mix, Kubrick allegedly preferred mono, and that choice is not so out of touch with the times that it's a problem for me (unlike 1987's Full Metal Jacket). The audio is consistently intelligible, clear and clean. It lacks presence and depth, but it's not bad for what it is.

Compared to the other Kubrick Collection DVDs, The Shining probably offers the fullest supplements. That doesn't mean you should expect much, but since the others are generally rather pathetic in that regard, The Shining looks great.

Actually, only two supplements appear. We see a terrifically intriguing trailer and we also get a nifty 35 minute documentary made by his daughter Vivian. That program's so good it's almost worth the price of the DVD on its own! Since Kubrick seems to have been an intensely private man, there isn't a whole lot of material that shows him doing ... well, doing much of anything. This piece offers a brief but compelling look at how he worked. Actually, it focusses mostly on Nicholson and Duvall, which is fun as well, but I most liked seeing Kubrick work. I wish it were longer, but it's still a very nice program that offers a unique behind the scenes look.

Overall, I'm having a hard time strongly recommending the DVD of The Shining. While the movie itself it pretty good, and the fine documentary about the making of the film definitely adds a lot of value to this package, the quality of the film transfer is so poor that it makes it difficult for me to clearly advise this purchase.

I guess that I'd give it a very conditional "go ahead and get it" recommendation, qualified by the fact that if this DVD lacked the documentary, I'd definitely steer you the other way. As such, if you don't care about supplements, you probably should pass on this DVD. I love extras, however, so I find The Shining to make for a worthwhile purchase.

To rate this film, visit the New Stanley Kubrick Collection review of THE SHINING

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